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phesied, “ and gave thanks unto the Lord. But Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things, which were spoken of him."
Ad SECTION V.
Considerations upon the Circumcision of the holy Child Jesus.
1. When eight days were come, the holy Jesus was circumcised, and shed the first fruits of his blood; offering them to God, like the prelibation of a sacrifice, and earnest of the great seas of effusion designed for his passion, not for the expiation of any stain himself had contracted; for he was spotless as the face of the sun, and had contracted no wrinkle from the aged and polluted brow of Adam: but it was an act of obedience, and yet of choice and voluntary susception, to which no obligation had passed upon him in the condition of his own person. For, as he was included in the verge of Abraham's posterity, and had put on the common outside of his nation, his parents had intimation enough to pass upon him the sacrament of the national covenant, and it became an act of excellent obedience : but because he was a person extraordinary, and exempt from the reasons of circumcision, and himself in person was to give period to the rite, therefore it was an act of choice in him, and in both the capacities becomes a precedent of duty to us; in the first, of obedience; in the second, of humility.
2. But it is considerable, that the holy Jesus, who might have pleaded his exemption, especially in a matter of pain and dishonour, yet chose that way, which was more severe and regular ; so teaching us to be strict in our duties, and sparing in the rights of privilege and dispensation. We pretend every indisposition of body to excuse us from penal duties, from fasting, from going to church ; and instantly we satisfy ourselves with saying, “God will have mercy, and not sacrifice;” so making ourselves judges of our own privileges, in which commonly we are parties against God, and therefore likely to pass unequal sentence. It is not an easy argument, that will bring us to the severities and rigours of duty; but we snatch at occasions of dispensation, and therefore possibly
may mistake the justice of the opportunities by the importunities of our desires. However, if this too much easiness be, in any case, excusable from sin, yet, in all cases, it is an argument of infirmity; and the regular observation of the commandment is the surer way to perfection. For not every inconvenience of body is fit to be pleaded against the inconvenience of losing spiritual advantages, but only such, which upon prudent account does intrench upon the laws of charity; or such, whose consequent is likely to be impediment of a duty in a greater degree of loss, than the present omission. For the spirit being in many perfections more eminent than the body, all spiritual improvements have the same proportions; so that, if we were just estimators of things, it ought not to be less than a great incommodity to the body, which we mean to prevent by the loss of a spiritual benefit, or the omission of a duty: he were very improvident, who would lose a finger for the good husbandry of saving a ducat; and it would be an unhandsome excuse from the duties of repentance, to pretend care of the body. The proportions and degrees of this are so nice, and of so difficult determination, that men are more apt to untie the girdle of discipline with the loose hands of dispensation and excuse, than to strain her too hard by the strictures and bindings of severity; but the error were the surer on this side.
3. The blessed Jesus refused not the signature of this bloody covenant, though it were the character of a sinner; and did sacramentally rescind the impure reliques of Adam, and the contractions of evil customs; which was the greatest descent of humility, that is imaginable, that he should put himself to pain to be reckoned amongst sinners, and to have their sacraments and their protestations, though his innocence was purer than the flames of cherubim. But we use arts to seem more righteous than we are, desiring rather to be accounted holy, than to be so; as thinking the vanity of reputation more useful to us, than the happiness of a remote and far distant eternity. But if (as it is said) circumcision was ordained, besides the signing of the covenant, to abolish the guilt of original sin, we are willing to confess that; it being no act of humiliation to confess a crime, that all the world is equally guilty of, that could not be avoided by our timeliest industry, and that serves us for so many ends in the
excuse and minoration of our actual impieties: so that, as Diogenes trampled upon Plato's pride with a greater fastuousness and humorous ostentation; so we do with original sin, declaim against it bitterly, to save the others harmless, and are free in the publication of this, that we may be instructed how to conceal the actual. The blessed Jesus had in him no principle of sin, original nor actual; and therefore this designation of his, in submitting himself to the bloody covenant of circumcision, which was a just express and sacramental abscission of it, was an act of glorious humility ; yet our charging of ourselves so promptly with Adam's fault, whatever truth it may have in the strictness of theology, hath (forsitan) but an ill end in morality; and so I now consider it, without any reflection upon the precise question.
4. For though the fall of Adam lost to him all those supernatural assistances, which God put into our nature by
grace; yet it is by accident, that we are more prone to many sins than we are to virtue. Adam's sin did discompose his understanding and affections, and every sin we do, does still make us more unreasonable, more violent, more sensual, more apt still to the multiplication of the same or the like actions : the first rebellion of the inferior faculties against the will and understanding, and every victory the flesh gets over the spirit, makes the inferior insolent, strong, tumultuous, domineering, and triumphant, upon the proportionable ruins of the spirit, blinding our reason and binding our will; and all these violations of our powers are increased by the perpetual ill customs, and false principles, and ridiculous guises of the world; which makes the later ages to be worse than the former, unless some other accident do intervene, to stop the ruin and declension of virtue; such as are God's judgments, the sending of prophets, new imposition of laws, messages from heaven, diviner institutions, such as in particular was the great discipline of Christianity. And even in this sense here is origination enough for sin, and impairing of the reasonable faculties of human souls, without charging our faults upon Adam.
5. But besides this, God, who hath propounded to man glorious conditions, and designed him to an excellent state
• Τους παλαιούς και εγγύς θεών γεγονότας, βελτιστους τε όντας φύσει, και τον άριστον iznuótas Bios, ás xpusoīvyévos voulder-921.-Porphyr. lib. iv. de non Esu Animalium.
of immortality, hath required of him such a duty, as shall put man to labour, and present to God a service of a free and difficult obedience. For therefore God hath given us laws, which come cross and are restraints to our natural inclinations, that we may part with something in the service of God, which we value. For although this is nothing in respect of God, yet to man it is the greatest he can do, What thanks were it to man to obey God in such things, which he would do, though he were not commanded? But to leave all our own desires, and to take up objects of God's propounding, contrary to our own, and desires against our nature, this is that, which God designed as a sacrifice of ourselves to him. And, therefore, God hath made many of his laws to be prohibitions in the matter of natural pleasure, and restraints of our sensitive appetite. Now, this being become the matter of Divine laws, that we should, in many parts and degrees, abstain from what pleases our senses, by this supervening accident it happens, that we are very hardly weaned from sin, but most easily tempted to a vice. And then we think we have reason to lay the fault upon original sin, and natural aversation from goodness, when this inclination to vice is but accidental, and occasional upon the matter and sanction of the laws. Our nature is not contrary to virtue, for the laws of nature and right reason do not only oblige us, but incline us to it b; but the instances of some virtues are made to come cross to our nature, that is, to our natural appetites ; by reason of which it comes to pass, that (as St.
we are by nature the children of wrath ;" meaning, that, by our natural inclinations, we are disposed to contradict those laws which lay fetters upon them, we are apt to satisfy the lusts of the flesh; for in these he there instances.
6. But in things intellectual and spiritual, where neither the one nor the other satisfy the sensual part, we are indifferent to virtue or to vice; and, when we do amiss, it is, wholly, and in all degrees, inexcusably our own fault. In the old law, when it was a duty to swear by the God of Israel in solemn causes, men were apt enough to swear by him only;
6 Τοιούτος μεν ούν και τους λογικούς γένεσι ενοσιόυμενος έρκος, μή παραβαίνειν υπ' αυτών [Θεού] διορισθέντας νόμους.-Hieroc.
,c Ephes. ii. 3.
and that sometimes the Israelites did swear by the queen
of Heaven, it was by the ill example and desires to comply with the neighbour nations, whose daughters they sometimes married, or whose arms they feared, or whose friendship they desired, or with whom they did negotiate. It is indifferent to us to love our fathers and to love strangers, according as we are determined by custom or education. Nay, for so much of it as is natural and original, we are more inclined to love them than to disrepute them; and if we disobey them, it is when any injunction of theirs comes cross to our natural desires and purposes. But if, from our infancy, we be told concerning a stranger, that he is our father, we frame our affections to nature, and our nature to custom and education, and are as apt to love him who is not, and yet is said to be, as him, who is said not to be, and yet indeed is, our natural father.
7. And in sensual things, if God had commanded polygamy or promiscuous concubinate, or unlimited eatings and drinkings, it is not to be supposed but that we should have been ready enough to have obeyed God in all such impositions : and the sons of Israel never murmured, when God bade them borrow jewels and ear-rings, and spoil the Egyptians. But because God restrained these desires, our duties are the harder, because they are fetters to our liberty, and contradictions to those natural inclinations, which also are made more active by evil custom and unhandsome educations. From which premises we shall observe, in order to practice, that sin creeps upon us in our education so tacitly and undiscernibly“, that we mistake the cause of it, and yet so prevalently and effectually, that we judge it to be our very nature, and charge it upon Adam, to lessen the imputation upon us, or to increase the license or the confidence, when every one of us is the Adam, the “man of sin," and the parent of our own impurities. For it is notorious, that our own iniquities do so discompose our naturals, and evil customs and examples do so encourage impiety, and the law of God
Non enini nos tarditatis natura damnavit, sed ultrà nobis quod oporte; bat indulsimus : ità non tam ingenio nos illi superârunt quàm proposito.-Quintil.
Ξενοκράτης φησίν, ευδαίμονα ειναι τον την ψυχήν έχοντα σπουδαίαν, ταύτην γάρ εκάστο ievas Saipova.-- Arist. ii. Top. c. 3.
“Ηράκλειτος έφη, ώς ήθος ανθρώπω δαίμων.--Stob. Serm. 250.